Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

Dr. Anna-Lena Wolf

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Reconsidering the Canon of Law in Nigeria

The current project investigates the canon of law in Nigeria in two ways. On the one hand, the project looks at attempts by Nigerian Catholics to establish ecclesiastical courts based on canon law jurisdiction. Nigeria’s constitution provides sharia courts for Muslims and customary courts for so-called traditional religions. Christians, however, are obliged to address secular courts in absence of church courts. They feel discriminated and denied of their constitutional fundamental right to freedom from discrimination based on religion and, therefore, aspire the establishment of ecclesiastical courts. Proceeding from this empirical example, the project, on the other hand, reconsiders underlying moral principles of secular state law.

The aspiration for the integration of canon law into state law in Nigeria is an interesting case study in the field of legal anthropology and legal pluralism because it challenges taken-for-granted assumptions that common law is based on Christian values whereas alternative legal orders, such as sharia or customary law, must necessarily be non-Christian and need to be acknowledged in order to pluralise an otherwise Christian majoritarian legal state order.

The current project is based on ethnographic fieldwork in Nigeria and analyses court cases and draft bills by Catholic human rights activists for the introduction of church courts. The aspiration to establish ecclesiastical courts constitutes an insightful example to investigate the canon of law in Nigeria and to reconsider the relation between religion, the state and law more generally.

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